Bahrain backs Israel for Hezbollah tunnel-busting operation

Denouncing tunnels dug by ‘terrorist Hezbollah,’ Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa suggests Lebanon’s neighbors have the right to ‘eliminate the threat they face’

Indonesian UN peacekeepers stand in front a poster of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as they patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)
Indonesian UN peacekeepers stand in front a poster of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as they patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

In a surprise move, Bahrain’s foreign minister on Thursday evening expressed support for Israel’s current operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.

“Is Terrorist Hezbollah’s digging of the tunnels under Lebanon’s border not a flagrant threat to Lebanon’s stability, which it shares responsibility for? Who bears responsibility when neighboring countries take upon themselves to eliminate the threat they face?” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa wrote on his Twitter account, in Arabic.

The statement appeared to put Bahrain in line with the US, the European Union, Germany, Austria, Canada and other states in backing Operation Northern Shield, which Israel launched Tuesday to find and destroy tunnels it says the Hezbollah terror group is digging from Lebanon into its territory.

In a second tweet, Khalid wrote: “International powers see it as a dangerous threat and the Lebanese state doesn’t comment,” together with a link to an article in a Lebanese newspaper about Israel’s operation.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed diplomats from across the globe on Hezbollah’s terror tunnels, calling on the world to denounce and sanction the group.

“We think that Hezbollah should be condemned forcefully and universally on this act of aggression,” he said.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2017, at UN headquarters. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

“This is an organization that openly says that their goal is to annihilate the State of Israel. They don’t hide it any more than the Iranians do, because of course they’re part and parcel of the same effort and the same ideology.”

So far, Israel has detected two cross-border tunnels that stretched from Lebanon into Israel and suspect a third also reaches across the border.

Israel and Bahrain do not have diplomatic relations, but are said to have solid clandestine ties. Both countries see in Iran — Hezbollah’s key sponsor — a strategic threat.

In 2016, Bahrain and several other Gulf countries blacklisted Hezbollah as a terror group.

Earlier this week, Khalid denied the existence of a plan for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the Gulf kingdom.

“There is no plan for a visit of Israel’s prime minister,” Khalid told the London-based daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. “There are no communications regarding [a visit]. The reality is nothing has happened.”

The Bahraini official’s comment came days after Hebrew-language news sites reported that Israel was working to normalize ties with Bahrain, citing an unnamed senior official.

At least one site also recently reported that officials in Jerusalem assessed that Bahrain would be the next Arab country without formal diplomatic ties with Israel to host Netanyahu.

In October, the prime minister made a surprise visit to Oman and met Omani leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat.

At a press conference last week, Netanyahu said he would visit more Arab states soon, without naming which countries.

Despite his denial of an imminent plan, the top Bahraini diplomat, however, said if a visit for Netanyahu were planned, the Gulf country would “not hesitate to announce it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018. (Courtesy)

Bahrain and Israel both strongly oppose Iran and its military activities in Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

In May, the Bahraini foreign minister appeared to defend Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria.

“As long as Iran continues the current status quo of its forces and rockets operating in the region, any country — including Israel — has the right to defend itself by eliminating the source of danger,” Khalid posted on his Twitter account at the time, hours after Israel hit Iranian assets in Syria.

Arab officials rarely offer a public defense of Israel.

Last week, Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen said he had received an invitation to attend a technology-related conference in Bahrain next year.

More than two decades ago, then-environmental protection minister Yossi Sarid visited Bahrain, where he met Bahraini foreign minister Mohammed bin Mubarak al-Khalifa and participated in regional talks on environmental issues.

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